Hunt for possible Berlin truck attack accomplices

German authorities said hundreds of investigators would be working on the probe throughout the holiday season.
German authorities said hundreds of investigators would be working on the probe throughout the holiday season.PHOTO: AFP

BERLIN • Germany was hunting for possible accomplices of the suspected Berlin truck attacker yesterday, a day after he was killed in a shoot-out with Italian police in Milan.

As most of the country was preparing to celebrate Christmas Eve, Germany's under-pressure authorities said hundreds of investigators would be working on the probe throughout the holiday season.

Tunisian Anis Amri, 24, is believed to have hijacked a truck and used it to mow down holiday revellers at a Berlin Christmas market last Monday, killing 12 people in an attack claimed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group. The rejected asylum seeker was the focus of a frantic four-day manhunt after the rampage, but his time on the run was cut short by Italian police.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has pledged a "comprehensive" analysis of how the known militant was able to slip through the net. "The Amri case raises questions," she said last Friday.

"We will now intensively examine to what extent official procedures need to be changed."

"How could Europe's most wanted terrorist leave Germany?" asked the respected Die Welt daily on its website, in a nod to criticism of the country's handling of the probe.

ISIS released a video last Friday in which Amri is shown pledging allegiance to ISIS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. German investigators are now focusing on whether Amri had help from accomplices.

For many on the continent's far right, the location of Amri's death is political - and a sign that the European Union's "Schengen area", which allows for border-free travel within most of the union, has failed. They point out that Amri was able to not only leave Germany but cross through France before arriving in Italy. "If the man shot in Milan is the Berlin killer, then the Schengen area is proven to be a risk to public safety," firebrand anti-European British politician Nigel Farage tweeted last Friday. "It must go."

Ms Marine Le Pen, leader of France's far-right National Front, published a blog post that dubbed the Schengen area a "security disaster", adding that France had been "reduced to learning after the fact that an armed and dangerous jihadist was probably wandering on its soil". Mr Beppe Grillo, leader of Italy's eurosceptic Five Star Movement party, also wrote his own blog post that praised the bravery of the policemen in Milan before adding that Italy had become a "pathway for terrorists" thanks to Schengen.

The Schengen area is a grouping of 26 European nations that signed an agreement to abolish border controls between them and strengthen Europe's external borders. The 1995 agreement was originally separate from the European Union, but has since become a part of EU law.

All but six EU nations have signed up, with the exception of Britain and Ireland, which opted out, and four newer EU member states that are legally obligated to join. A number of non-EU states, such as Switzerland and Iceland, are also members.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 25, 2016, with the headline 'Hunt for possible Berlin truck attack accomplices'. Print Edition | Subscribe